“Gerald, a mid-level employee of a New York–based public relations firm has been uploaded into the company’s internal Slack channels—at least his consciousness has. His colleagues assume it’s an elaborate gag to exploit the new work-from home policy, but now that Gerald’s productivity is through the roof, his bosses are only too happy to let him work from . . . wherever he says he is.
Faced with the looming abyss of a disembodied life online, Gerald enlists his co-worker Pradeep to help him escape, and to find out what happened to his body. But the longer Gerald stays in the void, the more alluring and absurd his reality becomes.
Meanwhile, Gerald’s colleagues have PR catastrophes of their own to handle in the real world. Their biggest client, a high-end dog food company, is in the midst of recalling a bad batch of food that’s allegedly poisoning Pomeranians nationwide. And their CEO suspects someone is sabotaging his office furniture. And if Gerald gets to work from home all the time, why can’t everyone? Is true love possible between two people, when one is just a line of text in an app? And what in the hell does the :dusty-stick: emoji mean?
In a time when office paranoia and politics have followed us home, Calvin Kasulke is here to capture the surprising, absurd, and fully-relatable factors attacking our collective sanity…and give us hope that we can still find a human connection.” – summary from the publisher.
Due to the way the words are arranged on the page to mimic Slack messages, there’s not much text in this book relative to its length, making it a very quick read. There’s a bit of depth to the main story but nothing that’ll rock your socks off or give you depression, so I think both the length and levity make this book a good palate cleanser between heavier titles.
Several People Are Typing is very modern and very online, so if you feel like you’re living in a weird nonsensical alternate reality in your work life it could be good to read to feel like someone else gets it.
If you’ve read and enjoyed A Touch of Jen by Beth Morgan, you might enjoy this book. I read A Touch of Jen last year and thought Several People Are Typing had a similar approach to story, character, and mood, and then I found out via the acknowledgements in Several People Are Typing that Calvin Kasulke and Beth Morgan attended the same CRIT writing workshop in NYC.
Overall, the book is funny, witty, and modern, with a touch of existential dread that makes it apt for our time. I have some complaints about the plot but they don’t outweigh the positives of the book, and it’s a quick enough read that I think it’s worth picking up if the themes appeal to you. I probably won’t re-read it though, so maybe borrow instead of buy if you can.
The standout characteristic of this book is the effectiveness with which the author recreates the way people talk and interact in Slack (at least in my and my partner’s experiences). He nails the three or four primary archetypes that often form in workplace text-based communication: 1. The person who uses correct punctuation and capitalization and comes off as pretty straight-laced, usually with a dry sense of humor, often a manager; 2. the very enthusiastic type who is mostly like #1 but also uses way too many exclamation points and comes off as over-caffeinated, often an HR person or someone who seems to either like their job or seems to be scared not to like their job; 3. the playing-it-loose type who never capitalizes except for Emphasis and uses lots of emojis and abbreviations–the jokester; and 4. basically #3 but less witticisms and/or more apathy. In my experience, work chats are often mostly populated with 2s and 4s, but all are present enough to be familiar.
I found main story or thematic through-line of the book to be salient, well-executed, and relevant to my life in our heavily digital world. Kasulke explores the way our daily experience has been fundamentally changed by the internet and its transformative power over the way we interact with each other and the world. This new internet-saturated existence is perhaps not really something people are “meant” to do or can adapt to, and that makes it easy to get overwhelmed by living in what often feels like a technology hellscape. Some of the most compelling passages in this book for me were the parts where Gerald is soliloquizing (well, more or less. He’s technically messaging Slackbot but Slackbot hasn’t awakened yet) about the permanence of the “ephemera” people scatter all over the internet, how most of it will outlast the people who wrote it and how there’s so much of it that it’s easy to get desensitized to what would otherwise be, in terms of gravity, the emotional equivalent to a sunset or the Grand Canyon. There is so much life on display in virtually every corner of the internet that you have to develop a callousness toward others’ experiences to not be hurt by it. Kasulke brings his philosophical angle back around to a more uplifting angle via Gerald’s connection with Pradeep, suggesting that keeping a hold on basic and valuable human experiences like seeing a sunset or having a crush reciprocated can be enough to keep us grounded and make existence feel worth it.
I felt that the book suffered a little from style over substance–for all Kasulke’s finesse in his portrayal of Slack chats and his skill in unraveling many of the characters in ways that carried the same unsettling feeling despite their uniqueness, his plot moves felt…simple? a little flat? I guess I wanted more resolution for characters besides Gerald and Pradeep, because everyone unravels to some degree toward the end but Gerald and Pradeep are really the only characters that we see pulling themselves back together. Everyone else just sort of goes back to normal with no clear reason. I guess you could argue that once the balance or rightness of things was restored by tricking Slackbot back into the digital world, everything else corrected itself? But there wasn’t really any narrative through-lines in the book suggesting any faith in the-universe-balances-itself-type perspectives, so I’m not terribly convinced.
Specifically, a few things felt unresolved or just unclear to me. Tripp and Beverly’s relationship was a pretty important subplot, but I don’t think I “got” what Kasulke was going for with their devolution into communicating entirely in partial emojis. I’m not sure what the “point” of Doug’s note-to-self chats other than to maybe give us a more grounded character’s perspective of what was going on, but then his chats also started melting into weirdness but didn’t really go anywhere. I also felt that Lydia (and the howling!!) was unresolved. Did she exist as a real person? If not, why did Gerald see evidence of her in Slack? I get the implication that the howling was her being haunted by the dead Pomeranians and maybe she was a projection of Rob’s psyche, but having her show back up in the briefs via a clearly sentient attempt at communicating information Rob couldn’t have known, and then to have her just completely disappear from the narrative, felt like a loose end.
If you also read this book and felt the above subplots were resolved more than I’m giving them credit for, please let me know! I might just be missing something.